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There’s A Lot of Tragedy at the Southern Border. There’s Also Profound Compassion

Right across the border from Brownsville, Texas, is a migrant encampment in Matamoros, Mexico. It's where hundreds of asylum-seekers live, who've escaped threats, physical violence, and extreme poverty.

The asylum-seekers wait — often for months — for a slim chance at legal entry into the U.S. Their only lifeline is a group of dedicated volunteers who cross the border every day to bring them food, clean water and other essentials.

In September, Kind World producers Yasmin Amer and Andrea Asuaje traveled to the southern border to report first-hand on the remarkable people making a difference at the U.S.-Mexico border. These are their stories of humanity and compassion.


Part 1: Wagons Of Hope

Volunteers with Team Brownsville pull wagons filled with food, water and other supplies to Matamoros, Mexico.
Volunteers with Team Brownsville pull wagons filled with food, water and other supplies to Matamoros, Mexico.

Yasmin and Andrea cross the southern border with a dedicated group of volunteers called Team Brownsville. The group started with five educators from Brownsville, Texas, who would physically drag wagons of food and water across the border twice a day, every day. Now, more volunteers from across the country are stepping up to help.

"I threw my heart into this — every penny I had. I maxed out every credit card."

Mike Benavides
Tents at the makeshift camp in Matamoros, Mexico, are paid for by volunteers (Courtesy Paul Goyette)
Tents at the makeshift camp in Matamoros, Mexico, are paid for by volunteers (Courtesy Paul Goyette)

 Part 2: The Sidewalk School

Asylum-seeking children draw during Sunday classes led by Team Brownsville. (Courtesy Paul Goyette)
Asylum-seeking children draw during Sunday classes led by Team Brownsville. (Courtesy Paul Goyette)

Many of the migrants living at the Matamoros, Mexico, border encampment are young children. To help them, Former Teacher and Texas resident Felicia Rangel-Samponaro began a makeshift school where the classes are led by asylum-seekers themselves.

"It's upsetting to see parents who want better for their children, who sacrificed so much just to get to this point — to try to cross over — and then to be told they're stuck here. It's hard to see that."

Felicia Rangel-Samponaro

Also in this episode:

Jose Luis Zelaya grew up in the trash fields of Honduras where violence and poverty were common. At just 13-years-old, he crossed into the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor. Twenty years later, he has a doctorate in education, and he hopes to one day transform the lives of other children growing up in poverty.


 Part 3: A Place Of Respite

Sister Zita Telkamp, 85, has been working at the La Posada Providencia respite center for 30 years. (Yasmin Amer/WBUR)
Sister Zita Telkamp, 85, has been working at the La Posada Providencia respite center for 30 years. (Yasmin Amer/WBUR)

What happens when asylum-seekers make it into the U.S.? Some have family or friends who can help them start a new chapter. Others have no one. In this story, Yasmin and Andrea speak with a woman who goes by Shalom. She fled Zimbabwe after a politically motivated assault. Through extraordinary circumstances, she ended up in the U.S. — alone.

Shalom found a respite center in Texas that helped her find peace. Now, she's helping other refugees find it, too.

The 35-year-old Zimbabwean woman, who goes by Shalom, now lives and works at La Posada and is studying for her GED. (Yasmin Amer/WBUR)
The 35-year-old Zimbabwean woman, who goes by Shalom, now lives and works at La Posada and is studying for her GED. (Yasmin Amer/WBUR)

"People are broken ... I've been there. I know what it's like."

Shalom

Also in this episode:

Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville, Texas, was once just a homeless shelter. But now, it's also been designated as a short-term respite shelter for those granted legal entry in the U.S. Marianela Watson, a retired educator and the shelter's respite director, discusses her work and why she believes this is her calling.

Related:

Yasmin Amer Twitter Producer, Kind World
Yasmin Amer is a producer and reporter for WBUR’s Kind World podcast.

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Andrea Asuaje Twitter Reporter/Producer, Kind World
Andrea Asuaje is a reporter and producer in WBUR’s iLab, where she makes Kind World. She is honored to share these emotional and impactful stories of hope, love and compassion with the WBUR audience.

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